Astronomers set to make 'groundbreaking' black hole announcement

We may be about to see the first-ever photo of a black hole.

Jackson Ryan Former Science Editor
Jackson Ryan was CNET's science editor, and a multiple award-winning one at that. Earlier, he'd been a scientist, but he realized he wasn't very happy sitting at a lab bench all day. Science writing, he realized, was the best job in the world -- it let him tell stories about space, the planet, climate change and the people working at the frontiers of human knowledge. He also owns a lot of ugly Christmas sweaters.
Jackson Ryan
2 min read
Hotaka Shiokawa

Astronomers working across a worldwide network of cosmic observatories are set to make a "groundbreaking" announcement on April 10, according to the European Southern Observatory.

Considering that the Event Horizon Telescope is on a mission to capture the very first image of a black hole, this could be one of the biggest science discoveries of the year -- humans, for the first time, may be able to "see" the black hole at the center of the Milky Way galaxy or the one over at our close cosmic neighbor, the elliptical galaxy Messier 87.

Of course, black holes are invisible space-vampires. Their immense gravity sucks in any surrounding matter -- including light -- that falls within its grasp. And once something falls in, it can never escape. That makes it entirely impossible to actually see a black hole right now.

However, at the very edge of a black hole's powerful gravity lies the "event horizon." Material accumulates in this region and speeds around the black hole at such a pace that it emits high-energy radiation -- the stuff that we can see. Over the past 13 years, the Event Horizon Telescope (which is actually a network of radio observatories across the planet) has been trying to image two black holes: Sagittarius A*, at the center of the Milky Way, and the black hole at the center of Messier 87.

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The observatories around the world focus on the locations of the black hole and individually capture the radio signals emitted by the event horizon. The data they capture is digitized and stored on hard drives, which are physically flown to participating institutions for analysis. Because each telescope across the world is all synced up to an incredibly precise clock, the data can be correlated, stitched together and eventually -- and this is the holy grail -- produce an image of the black hole's event horizon.

The last collection of data occurred two years ago, in April 2017. In that time, astronomers have been piecing together the results from the run -- and now many suspect that the announcement on April 10 will give us the first real glimpse of a black hole.

That's no certainty, but given that the media advisory suggests a "groundbreaking result" that will be simultaneously streamed in six different locations and four different languages around the world, there's reason to be excited.

The official announcement will begin at 6 a.m. PT on April 10. Whatever the result may be, CNET will have it covered.

This is what happens when you fall into a black hole (pictures)

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